It is in the bleak mid-winter that I begin strolling down memory lane to destinations of summers past and sleeping under the stars. And it is in that vein that I want to continue sharing stories of my last road trip. I am a big fan of National Parks, and camping, and nature. This year (2016) is the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, and I’m celebrating in style with an new Road Trip (coming to a blog near you, June/July 2016). On the last loop, we headed east to South Dakota. You can check out my road trip stories here, for adventures from Yellowstone and South Dakota. After South Dakota we suffered through an incredibly boring drive south through eastern Wyoming, which landed us in Southern Colorado, near Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver – at St. Vrain State Park.
St. Vrain was an unusual park. Close to the highway, but not enough to disrupt sleep. Surrounding ponds full of birds (more than I can remember or name). And under the flight path of an active Air Force Base (so fighter jets overhead from time to time). Also home to the best sunrise I saw on the whole trip. It was a weird campsite to set up shop in. Some moments it felt like a retreat, but others it felt like it was forced – needing to create a stop over off the highway for those traveling on through. Building a road trip itinerary isn’t easy. It usually starts with one “must see” destination, and then a second and possibly third priority. Then it’s a matter of linking them together through other interesting stops. Yellowstone was the cornerstone of our plan. Arches National Park was the second point along the way. Ray really wanted to go to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel. And there was a shared loved of baseball, and the closest team to our routes was Denver. And there you have it – the outline was born. As we research the route we found lots of little things that drew us to certain routes and downs. Boulder was home to NCAR (National Centre for Atmospheric Research), and a Teahouse that was basically imported from Tajikistan. Neighbouring Fort Collins was the beer capital – highest concentrations of breweries in one city in North America. Golden was where Coors was located, and we were able to get tickets to see the Rockies play. So our trip was beginning to take shape.
We arrived around 6, in time for dinner, had we not had a late lunch at Terry’s Bison Ranch on the Wyoming/Colorado border. We set up our tent and then went in search of laundry. By now we had spent a week on the road, and we had lots to do. We packed light because we planned on a laundry stop. We found a laundromat that would wash, dry and fold for you (drop off service) and decided this seemed like a good option. It wasn’t just good – it was AMAZING. We dropped off a giant bag of laundry, and came back the next afternoon to get back a duffle of clean, folded, campfire-smoke-free laundry. For $12. Best $12 we spent all trip. From here on out, this kind of laundry plan will be my go-to for all road trips. I know blogging about laundry is not exactly scintillating, but I have been on way too many trips with way too much luggage way too many times. We have a tendency to overpack. Can’t decide what we may need, and want to make sure we have options. But with 3 people, 2 tents, 2 coolers, 3 bags of clothing, sleeping bags, pillows, and all the food, pots, pans, hatchets, tarps and various supplies required to live in the wilderness – cutting down where possible is important.
Our first morning I woke up before sunrise to use the bathroom. I took one step outside of my tent, and went immediately back in to get my camera. The sky was more shades of blue that I could count, and the yellow glow of the sun was just beginning to come up over the horizon. It was one of those fortunate good timing events where I was blessed to share a moment of quiet, just me and a bunch of birds. You could hear the wind flow lightly through the tall grass, and the light reflect off the ponds, which were flat as glass. It’s easy, when captivated by a beautiful sunrise, to see all the potential the day will bring. It’s calm, and beautiful, and full of promise. If you let it inside, it will make your heart sing just a little.
After a hearty breakfast, we drove to the town of Boulder. Boulder, we came quick to realize, is a town for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Nestled into the Rockies, it is full of hiking, fields of wildflowers, and is a bikers paradise. They are big into kites, and disc golf, and connecting with nature. NCAR has set up shop here, as has NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) – so lots of scientistic studying the earth from this town. Boulder feels very organic and down to earth. Their best restaurant in town is farm-to-table food, with everyone sitting at one communal family table – a chance to meet a new friend. Their main shopping street – Pearl Street – is awesome. A pedestrian (or bikers zone) full of performers and musicians, an AMAZING book store, local breweries, funky shops, and sunshine. I could happily set up shop in Boulder – no rat race here – just a love of life.
We visited NCAR first – a free admission into a “museum” of sorts, with information and displays on weather phenomenon. They have a cool machine making clouds and simulating tornados, and I learned about so many things I had never heard of before. We waited until their 45 minute free tour, which I enjoyed immensely, making it a fun learning opportunity for our morning.
When we were planning our trip to Boulder (or in general) we had googled local town websites to find out what was happening in each town. This is how we stumbled across the bat festival in South Dakota, and the local smudging and drumming meetings in Boulder. Every town has it’s quirks! What we did learn is that Boulder had a cool Bohemian vibe – and the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House was a good example of that. This tea house was build by hand, with no power tools, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as a gift for Boulder, it’s sister city. It was then dismantled and shipped piece by piece to Boulder, and reassembled. The tea has has exquisite foods and teas, and Ray could not get enough!! Even now, when we talk about road trip destinations, he will ask if we will be anywhere near Boulder, so we can have lunch here again.
After lunch we wandered down Pearl Street, into the shops and bookstore, and then settled in at two different local breweries for the tasting menu. Ray preferred the Belgian stylings of West Flanders Brewing Company.
The people and vibe of Boulder was amazing, and a day well spent. When traveling on a camping based road trip, it’s sometimes hard to move from the National Parks and wilderness into the city experience. But it wasn’t like that at ALL in Boulder. Boulder was a city designed for those who love the outdoors. And with the mountains in its backyard, that makes sense. So if you are planning a road trip, or considering a visit to Colorado, we highly recommend it.